Composed in 1796 - 1798; Published in 1798
There is a wonderful moment in the first movement of the Sonata No. 6 when, after the development section winds down, the opening theme returns virtually unaltered, just as expected in a traditional sonata recapitulation. But something isn’t right. We pause to sniff the air, so to speak. Somehow, we have landed in the wrong neighborhood, and find ourselves in D major, rather than the home key of F major. We start again, far more hesitantly, seeking our way back to more familiar territory. Suddenly, we see a path that leads back to F. In order to make up for lost time, we don’t bother with the characteristic opening phrase of the theme, but simply sneak into the middle, hoping that no one will have noticed our absence.
This is the kind of humour at which Beethoven excelled, and it occurs time and time again in his music. Undoubtedly, he learned this trick (along with countless others) from Haydn, who, if anything, was even better at it than Beethoven. Some might tend to consider the notion of a work of art commenting on, and poking fun at, its own processes as a very modern, almost postmodern, phenomenon. However, it is a prominent, almost distinguishing, feature of the mature classical style.
The middle movement, with its ominous outer sections and richly-chorded trio provides the only serious moment in this sonata, although even here, some jarring off-the-beat accents do their best to break the mood. The jocular Finale, with its echo of the Haydn Allegro in F that we all studied as kids, and whose themes literally laugh at themselves, begins like a fugue. Soon, however, the fugal style is quickly dropped, and the movement proceeds in a fairly straightforward sonata style to its abrupt conclusion.
—Notes by Robert Silverman